Author's Note:

All right, I know I said there would be a long period between updates, but do I really want to be studying? Forget it. Politics can bite me. Goodbye to the no-longer-here Love Letters! I have actually burned them. Physically. My neighbours think I'm nuts, but it was very symbolically enjoyable.

Just briefly, also- yay for advertising! If you're into slash (I'm not, particularly, but if you are), a writer buddy of mine, Jorja, is posting a story called You Know What I Mean as a gift for two gay friends of hers. It's all very dark and angsty, and people are dying and depressed and beaten up, and all sorts of other things mixed in with the sweet little romance she's got going. Jorja is awesomely talented, so if that's your thing, check it out (it's by Amateur Imaginationist- I know, I want her name too).

P.S. If you read it, review lots. It makes her happy, and if she's happy it means we actually get work done instead of listening to her whinge for four hours, and if we get work done it means I'm happy, and if I'm happy it means more chapters of Italian-flavoured goodness for you!

Chapter 7

"I hear," said Dr Harbrother, flicking his pen over his fingers idly, "that your sister has returned."

Jackson said nothing. He wasn't in the mood to play psychological games today. If it weren't for Ethan practically throwing him out of the house, telling him that his anger was disturbing the feng shui, he wouldn't be here at all.

"How does that make you feel, Jackson?"

How does it make me feel? Jackson thought about this, mock-seriously. Well, let's see. My twin sister, who left me behind to suffer the idiocies of our parents and went gallivanting off into the sunset, has reappeared like nothing was ever wrong, and is now attempting to worm her way back into my life. I am apparently to blame for not making her feel at home, even when, as I have pointed out, this hasn't actually ever been her home. My older brother is so happy that she's not dead that he's turfed me out of his home, where I happen to LIVE on a permanent basis, so that she won't feel so uncomfortable. And, to top it all off, we still have a zombie living in our guest room. (He felt a minor flick of guilt about calling Del that, but he was too angry to care.) So, overall, out of ten, about minus a hundred. And four.

"Fine, thank you," he said, instead, as if the doctor had just offered him tea.

Dr Harbrother- all credit to him- snorted derisively.

"You aren't a robot, Jackson. This is your twin sister we're talking about. They say twins only have one soul, you know. And she was gone- what, three years?" He leaned back in his seat and looked at Jackson thoughtfully. "Why don't you tell me about it?"

"About what?"

"The night she left."

This was new. Jackson tried to think of a way to get out of it, but it proved to be beyond him. He simply sighed, swore viciously in his mind, and started talking, in a very careful monotone.

"She had a fight with our parents, came into my room, said she was off, and left."

It was difficult- his voice kept on wanting to shake and crack with rage- but he kept a hold on himself.

"Must have been fairly hard on you," said Dr Harbrother, quietly.

"Not particularly."

He felt, suddenly, like he wanted to explain himself- it meant he grew up, it meant he realised what sort of a person she was, that he was fine on his own- but he restrained the urge. This was a psychiatrist, not a friend (not a girl with open, reflecting eyes, staring at him under the trees, urging him to tell her the truth, he added, almost subconsciously- but the thought was distracting, and he pushed it away). The good doctor wasn't going to worm anything out of him, Ethan's four hundred a month be damned.

"So you mean to tell me that you weren't at all- angry? Or lost, or betrayed, perhaps?"

Good guess, thought Jackson, savagely. He shrugged, and said nothing.

"You know," said Dr Harbrother after a while, in a contemplative, slightly smug voice that made Jackson want to hit him, "you are perhaps my only patient where monosyllables and sullen silence are more useful to me than engaging in conversation. This has hit you hard, Jackson, because if it hadn't you would be playing mind games with me as usual. Now why don't you make it easier for yourself and open up a bit, hmmm?"

"Thank you," said Jackson, stiffly, like a forcibly polite wind-up toy, "but I'm fine."

"I will be the judge of that, my boy. And I say you're not, and you're not helping your family or your sister- or that Delphine girl- by smouldering like this. Sooner or later, it's going to erupt, and you're going to do damage to them and to yourself."

Disturbingly, Jackson got a horrible vision of Del's face. It didn't even bear thinking about.

He almost broke, then. He almost told everything to the sneering, pot-bellied little man who was looking at him so expectantly, there in the stifling room with the hundred and ninety-six flowers on the carpet (Jackson had had many opportunities to count them). There was something so- alluring about the idea. Letting all the poisons out of him- the anger, the envy, the fear that sent him out every night to run with the bad boys and try to forget- and feeling pure and cleansed once they had flowed free. Maybe, he thought, hopeful for a moment, cutting my hair means new beginnings. Maybe it means- it doesn't have to be this way any more-


He didn't change. The things around him did. Eda, Delphine- they were transient. They would leave him, just as everybody else did. It was always going to be this way. He was just going to have to get used to it.

He folded his hands with exaggerated slowness, which he knew Dr Harbrother hated. The man twitched slightly. And the game was back on.


The wind was cold this afternoon, he thought, stepping out of the building onto the footpath. He almost missed his hair, its weight on his back. Now, without it, he felt- light. Almost as if he could be blown away. It wasn't a comforting feeling.

He squinted towards the swings. Was she there?

Stupid question. She was always there. It was like there were maybe three things in the world you could depend upon always happening, and the fact that she was waiting there, eating something and staring into space, was one of them. He smiled to himself, almost inadvertently, and wondered, as he had before, why she still hung around- she had to know the way home by now, it wasn't like she needed him or anything. Right?

This time, however, things were different. Jackson didn't like things being different. He stopped walking and focussed more firmly on the view, which blurred and swam, and then snapped, sharply, into fine relief. There were two figures by the swings instead of one.

Hand to his brow, Jackson's eyes became dark. He recognised, even with the low tilt of the sun in the sky, the line of his sister's chin as it rose in silhouette, and the shade of her air on her shoulders. It was as if, after years of guessing (and guessing wrong) at who his sister was these days, her reappearance had reopened the old, almost supernatural bond between them, where they would sense each other from opposite sides of a crowd.

Things had come rushing back to Jackson that he'd buried. He remembered how it had felt to be half of something, able to look at somebody and know that they thought what you thought, knew what you knew. It was a comfort that he, guiltily, like a child, was enjoying again, no matter how much he pushed his sister away. There are some parts to people that years simply cannot touch.

He wondered, underneath the rush of confusion and memory, what his sister was doing here.

"Hey, old man Jack," called Eda, as he approached. It was a name she'd called him when they were kids. She'd been little baby Eda in return, and she'd hated that. Hit him every time he said it.

"Eda," he said, blankly. Stood there with his hands in his pockets, neutral. Ignoring the more convincing neutrality of Del's eyes.

"How fares your sanity? You really so fucked up you need eighteen stories of help?" Eda gestured towards the building, her face sweetly mischievous.

"Fuck you, Eda, honestly." But the retort was without real anger. He heard her words, he knew the insults beneath them, but there was just something about Eda's cheeky, stupid face that made Jackson feel- like he remembered feeling. The way stuff used to be, when it wasn't all confused.

It only got confused because of her, he told himself fiercely, but Eda was still smiling at him, and he felt the smile's magnetic pull more than anyone.

"Language," she said, lightly. "Are you sufficiently non-dangerous to walk home, or do I have to frisk you for axes? Oh, all right-" seeing Jackson's eyes- "I'll stop joking around. I think it's cool you actually got the guts to see anybody. I need a psychiatrist more than anybody I know, and I'm too scared to go near one."

She looked towards the building, and her eyes were black and contemplative. "Maybe I'm frightened of what I'll find out about myself."

"Um- thanks," said Jackson, to cover the silence. He'd never felt like a hero for having his head examined. It hadn't meant all that much to him. Just another annoyance.

Del, sitting on the swing, looked at him and smiled, unexpectedly. It put her face into a strange relief, like it was lit from within- like a moon lantern.

"It's not easy, is it?" she said, quietly. "I don't like it at all. I don't say a thing."

"You're kidding." Jackson and Eda said it at the same time. They looked at each other, briefly, but didn't acknowledge the shared response. Delphine shook her head.

"No. Nothing at all. I sit there in silence for the entire session."

"Very rebellious of you," said Eda, calmly, but Jackson couldn't quite bring himself to say anything at all. He'd never really given much thought to what Del said or did in her sessions. He'd just assumed, blindly, that, like himself, she'd walled herself off with sarcasm. He should have known her defences were deeper than that.

"Shall we be trotting off home, then?" said Eda, clearly, in the spreading silence.

"Yeah. Sure." Jackson recalled himself to reality. Del simply gave him a small smile, and got up off the swing, dusting off her skirt. She always seemed to know everything, he thought. Like she'd been alive since the beginning of time. "Eda-" he turned to something that was guaranteed to wake him up from the weird mood he seemed to be in- "what were you doing here, anyway?"

The question caught Eda off guard. "Oh, I just-" She seemed to lose herself for a moment, floundering briefly in silence.

Jackson, watching her, began to laugh. He couldn't help it. He just knew all the signals so well.

"What?" she said, sounding slightly testy. Her voice, different now, deeper, still had the same rise and fall to it when she was annoyed. She tightened her hand around the swing's chain.

"Whatever you're going to say, little baby Eda," said Jackson, idly, "you're going to lie." He extracted a cigarette from his pocket- less cautious, now, around Delphine, knowing that if she didn't like the smoke she'd simply leave them.

Eda simply gaped. There was a silence. Then she laughed. "Leave the telepathy to the experts, my dear brother. There's nothing to lie about. I came across Delphine here, thought I'd keep her company till you emerged from your head-shrinking session. Totally innocent. Eh, Delphine?"

Jackson looked at her from under his new hair. "Always were a bad liar," he mumbled, trying to keep the cigarette steady on his lips to light it. Eda punched his arm, lightly. Her fist was more tutored now- she aimed, measured, instead of flailing and occasionally connecting, like when they were kids. There was knowledge behind it, now. Jackson felt it.

"Believe what you want. You going to come home now?"

That word. Home.

Jackson drew in a deep blue breath of smoke and dusk air. "Sure," he said, softly. "Sure."


Delphine sometimes thought, after it was all over, about whether she should have told Jackson about what she'd seen that afternoon at dusk, as she'd waited for him in the park. About Eda in the shadows at the edge of the playground, her hands moving, hair shining, laughing in a low, hard voice at some shared joke- then emerging into the light, pretending to come across Delphine sitting on the swing by accident, surprised smile in place. And the shadows slipping away, flicking their half-lit cigarette butts over a fence as they went.

She wondered whether she should have told him her vague guesses, or about the feeling of disturbance she'd gotten watching Eda that afternoon, her face's sly half-feline quality, always putting her back towards the sun. Hiding something.

Usually, these thoughts came to nothing. It was all over now, she would tell herself. It wouldn't have helped, he was too far in by then. There was never anything you could have done, except watch, and wait, and know- vaguely, ever dimly- what was coming.


"James, you remember my sister, Eda."

Ethan's voice was polite, charming- as always. He managed to make the most bizarre situations seem normal. It was his talent. Under the influence of his tongue, what could, reflected Delphine, have been tainted with awkwardness and a faint sense of self-conscious novelty- the meeting of the boyfriend and the almost-mythical younger sister- was playing out before her with absolute ease. James took Eda's hand in both his own, and Eda's smile was superb in its perfectly pitched grace. Still, Delphine got the odd feeling she was watching a pantomime of a dinner party- children aping, but not quite getting right, the elegance of adult society.

Still, it was well performed. And to the side- stage left- was Jackson, who was watching with greater interest, but without joining in. There was no chance of explosions from him tonight, thought Delphine, watching him shift slightly in his clean shirt, with his hair washed. He'd made an effort.

Unaccountable boy. Delphine straightened her own blue dress and smiled to herself.

"Shall we sit?"

Ethan gestured to the table, which was set graciously with candles. He'd excelled. The foolish fancies of an old man's heart, he'd explained to Delphine that afternoon (as he did complicated, delicate things to artichoke hearts with a sharp knife)- a good meal for a lover meant he would never leave home again. Delphine, eating a spare artichoke heart he'd passed to her with fingers grotesquely reddened from the beetroot, had wondered about this. It was like a ritual, she'd reflected, distantly, watching Ethan's hands do their many-step dance. A sacrifice of a heart or two to keep James's forever.

Such thoughts seemed very far from the delicious mess on their plates. Eda was awkward with a knife and fork- she seemed to be used to eating with her fingers- but otherwise she was sparkling. She had them all laughing with wild tales of her gypsy life. Delphine didn't believe half of them, but she laughed, gently, along with the rest of them.

Jackson seemed like a different boy tonight. He wasn't sulky or vindictive. His face was open, laughing, as he vied with Eda for control of the conversation. Their wit was similar; they passed insults and jests across the table at each other with a rhythm they both clearly enjoyed. And yet, Delphine always saw- perhaps it was the candlelight playing tricks- that Eda was holding something back.

She herself said little. At first, Ethan attempted to include her, but he recognised her reticence and let her sit. It was nice, she thought, trying to make herself festive with the rest of them, to see that families remained in the world, and that other sisters and brothers could sit down and have dinner and banter about nothing. That the world was still revolving. Sometimes (she was honest with herself) she forgot that.

But it was still hard.

Towards the end of the dinner party, she became aware that she was not the only silent one. James, too- the guest of honour- was hovering on the sidelines of conversation, like a moth not daring to get closer to the flame. The voices of the three siblings, bickering and happy, overlapped and became a whole which filled the room and drove out the darkness- but somehow, as the new family was formed, the old one was starting to fall apart.

Delphine turned to look at James's face. His mouth was smiling, but his eyes were fixed, solidly, without altering their course in the slightest, on Eda, and there was not affection in the gaze. Delphine shivered, involuntarily, and looked away.

She cleared the plates. Eda and Jackson left the room for Jackson's- to go through some of Jackson's old things, in pursuit of a CD they'd remembered communally over dinner (but really to talk, and joke, and feel like pieces of the same whole again)- and Delphine was left, slowly scraping the crumbs off the table-cloth, listening to Ethan and James wash up behind her.

"I enjoyed myself tonight," she heard James say, in the sudden silence created by the twins' departure. She didn't turn around to face the kitchen- simply buried herself in her task.

"I'm glad to hear it, mon amour." From the vague sounds, Delphine guessed that Ethan had kissed James's forehead. He did that sometimes. "And the prodigal? Does she meet your high standards?"

"She's related to you, how can she not?" came the laughing reply. But there was something in it that Delphine caught- some sort of strange reticence, a pause. There was a silence.

"She has been gone a long time," said Ethan, almost apologetically. So he had heard it too, then. Delphine scraped the crumbs onto a napkin.

"Oh, yes. Very interesting. She's had quite a life." Again, the laugh was- off. Like a note that had been struck wrong, that wavered in the air.

"What's that supposed to mean?" All of a sudden Ethan's voice was shaded, wary- protective.

"Nothing! Nothing, Ethan," came James's hasty reply. Too hasty, as it turned out.

"Nothing." The washing up sounds stopped. A plate sunk to the bottom of the sink, where it made a dull clunk. "James, your reticence is charming, but you are trying my patience."

Ethan was trying to keep it light, but Delphine knew this was dangerous territory.

"Don't be silly." The clatter of plates- James must be drying. Probably turning his face to his work, to avoid Ethan's eyes. "You're reading too much into what I say. You know I blurt out anything that pops into my head." His tone was airy.

"Indeed," came the reply, but it was weighted with a vague flick of insult.

"There's no need for that." James's voice was, all of a sudden, angry.

"She is my sister, James."

"I know."

"So whatever problem you have with her, you have with me."

"That isn't-"

"The way it works? Wrong, my darling. Very wrong." A sigh. "Please. We've gotten this far with words. Let us go a little further, mmm? Articulate, my boy."



"You won't like it."

"That-" the response was very soft- "is immaterial."

"Very well." There was a slight pause. Then the words, carefully dampened of sound- near murmurs- came rushing out. "I don't- there's just something about her, something I can't put my finger on. You know I see these art dealer twisted types every day, and I- maybe it's her eyes, but- I'm sorry, mon cher, I know a trickster when I see one."

The last words, quiet as they were, broke over the house like a plate cracking on tile.

"I beg your pardon," said Ethan, and this time it was very audible indeed. Delphine jumped.

"Calm down, Ethan, please, I-"

"I beg your pardon." The voice was crisp and totally devoid of any politeness whatsoever. "I think you may have been spending too much time with your twisted friends, if you are seeing their criminology in the eyes of my sister. My sister, James."

Delphine had to give James credit. In the face of that voice, which reminded her somehow of a snake threatening to strike, she would have run away and hid, but presumably ten years did something to make you immune to that sort of thing. James stood his ground.

"My judgement stands. Your sister or not, there is something there which doesn't augur well. I don't want you to be disappointed again, Ethan." His voice was quietly tender. "Not after so long."

From long habit, Delphine knew he reached out and pushed Ethan's forelock away from his face. She waited, staring ahead of her, not seeing anything, motionless.

"The only thing that is disappointing me at the moment," came Ethan's voice, dryly but without amusement, "is you. This is my blood you're slandering, James. I let her into my home and my heart, where she belongs, and I trust her with my life."

Delphine knew he probably didn't mean this- he was getting melodramatic with the escalation of the fight- but it had its desired affect. James snorted, angrily.

"Blood or no blood, Ethan, that girl is trouble."

"I'll take my chances," said Ethan, coldly.

"Fine. Then you can take them on your own."

"Excellent suggestion."

"Call me when you recognise my right to possess an opinion. Thank you for a truly wonderful (James's voice was loaded with sarcasm) evening- it isn't often I get to dine in such close quarters with a real snake, I'll be able to use the experience to help me in the business later-"

"Get out of my house."

Ethan's voice was deliberately, totally non-negotiable in its anger. Like a brick wall. There was the sound of something- probably an apron- being thrown to the floor. James stalked from the kitchen.

From the doorway, he turned. Delphine didn't want to look up, but she had to listen.

"You may think it's your house," he said, bitterly, "but you wait. She'll make it hers."

And he left.

Delphine gave herself ten minutes before she dared to leave the room. As she passed, she saw that Ethan remained motionless, bent over the sink, his hands gripping its sides, staring at the bottom.


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(Addition: I'm trying to fiddle with the summary for this story- the one I have is too bulky- but I'm having problems. Ideas?)